I, too, very much appreciated Neal Bascomb’s comments on our Board. As I indicated previously, I thought he did a very nice job of conveying the drama of that exciting period in our sport’s history. And I place the blame for the factual errors on the publishers, who must ultimately bear responsibility for what they put out on the street.
Given the possibility of having all these errors corrected for a subsequent edition, I thought that I might take the time to transcribe the notes that I took while I was reading it. Like Kuha, I found a number of errors of various kinds. There was an inaccurate description of when an athlete accomplished something important, two equally inaccurate references to when certain non-track events took place (one of which references revealed a woeful ignorance either of history or of the meaning of a certain term), an incorrect reference to an article that is used at a certain event, the misuse of a word that is an important part of the Olympic vocabulary, the misstatement of a time difference as odd as the one cited by Kuha, a grossly inaccurate statement of the cost of something at a particular time, and some solecisms that any competent copy editor would have caught and corrected. There was also a story, not described as factual but repeated nonetheless, that I have seen printed elsewhere and that is utter nonsense not worthy of mention in any context.
At one point I thought that perhaps I could contribute to the accuracy of the next edition by double checking all these points and adding them to this thread. I have decided not to that. I fear that doing this sort of thing would only encourage the Houghton Mifflins of the world to tolerate slipshod editing. Why waste the money hiring fact checkers and copy editors when there will always be a bulletin board on the Internet where the experts will do that work for you? Get the first edition out there, wait for the people who know what they’re talking about to weigh in and then fix all the errors for the next editions.
Do publishers think that way? Maybe not. But I don’t want them to. Publishers, like all businesses, are trimming costs like crazy these days, and I don’t want to contribute to a culture that enables them to think they can get away with saving a few bucks by letting someone do some of their work for free.
And that’s related to another reason I’m not going to share my detailed notes with the world. In track and field, as in most other fields, there are experts who get paid for consulting on projects like this. I know a few such experts who run track and field information services businesses and who would have been glad to take on the task of vetting this book for a fee. None of them does this as a full time livelihood—there isn’t very much work of this kind out there. But they do offer consulting services and of course they expect to get paid for what they do. I do not believe in taking work away from people. I don’t see why I should perform a service that adds value to the product of a business corporation without being paid for it, especially when there are professionals who do that sort of service for a reasonable fee.
So let me just repeat that I enjoyed reading the book, in spite of my frustration over seeing so many wrong details. I would recommend it to other track fans without hesitation. But I lament the errors that detracted from what might otherwise have been The Perfect Book.
Like others, I very much appreciate kuha's thorough review/commentary. I also liked Neal Bascomb's non-defensive response to the factual errors kuha noted. While those errors are definitely unfortunate, they are trivial compared to those of some other, "expert," authors. Case in point: John Keegan, the noted military historian. His Fields of Battle is replete with truly egregious errors. The two most amazing concern attributing actions to dead men. In one case he has Thomas Jefferson going to Bent's Fort, Colorado, which, as he says, was built in 1833 - 7 years after Jefferson's death on the 4th of July 1826, at the age of 83. (i.e.Even if Keegan was unaware that Jefferson and John Adams both died on the precise 50th anniversary of July 4, 1776, wouldn't he have recognized the implausability of a 90 year old going to the truly wild West in the 1830s?) And, later, he has Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ordering the Confederate retreat on the 2nd day at Shiloh (Civil War) the day after his death turned the tide of battle. As I said, Bascomb's errors seem minor by comparison. I look forward to getting his book.
And then there are people who review the book perhaps without having actually read it. I can't believe this howler is actually in the book:
<<Only then, after Bannister's record-breaking performance, could "the perfect mile" be run. All three men were scheduled to compete against each other for the first time in a race in Vancouver, B.C. Why Santee ended up broadcasting the race on radio rather than racing is a heartbreaking story of bureaucratic power misused..>> say what?!
That's in a review in the SF Chron this morning in which the reviewer is titled "a former long-distance runner"
Talk about howlers! How about this, from the same review:
>The central section of "The Perfect Mile" chronicles the training and racing each of these men endured in the nearly two years following the Helsinki Olympics. In race after race, each comes close, but none beats four minutes. They trade successes at lowering the world record by tenths of a second, never racing one another and never quite succeeding.<
In fact, the World Record stood at 4:01.4 from 1945 until Roger Bannister broke it by two seconds when he ran the first sub-four minute mile.
Last edited by tandfman on Sun Apr 18, 2004 9:49 am, edited 1 time in total.
"Suddenly, this 41-year-old public policy analyst, who was also a successful writer and a competitive runner, was thrust into the world of severe disability. He developed subtle but extensive neurological deficits that affected his concentration and memory."
Jnathletics was right to be equally critical of Kuha as Kuha was of Bascomb. Unfortunately Kuha was not able to accept his error when it was pointed out to him. The erroneous premise for Bascomb’s date errors (for the records mentioned), made by Kuha was that " the problem would appear to have begun with some confusion between the European and American system of dates..."
If this was the case Bascomb would have mistakenly printed Jan 1 instead of the printed 1 Jan, from a source of 01/01/year, making no difference at all. Having, correctly and legitimately pointed Kuha's mistake, Kuha, knowing his argument to be faulty replied by shifting his argument from being a mix up in date systems as originally stated- to another: replying by saying - "That's why I said that I presumed the problem began with misreading of dates". Kuha didnot actually write this, this is also inaccuracy - he wants to be a bit more careful with his proof reading!
Failure to acknowledge mistakes is worse than making them in the first place.
Pedantic I know but I felt the duty to iron out those pesky mistakes.
Mr. Barnes: What in the world is the above post all about? I'm all for "critics" criticizing, but it helps to have actually read the material you're talking about. In the note you refer to (re: page 62 of Bascomb's book), I do three things:
a) I state a fact: 4 of 6 dates are wrong
b) I venture an opinion (these errors are so strange that one would have expected any athletics historian or competent editor to have caught them)
c) I venture an hypothesis: the problem (with the 4 wrong dates) MAY have begun with a misreading of dates.
Let's look at the facts:
Here's a condensation of what Bascomb has on page 62 (H=Haegg; A=Anderson)
H 4:06.2 Jan. 1, 1942 [actual: July 1, 1942]
A 4:06.2 Oct. 7, 1942 [actual: July 10, 1942]
H 4:04.6 April 9, 1942 [actual: Sept. 4, 1942]
A 4:02.6 Jan. 1, 1943 [actual: July 1, 1943]
My facts are correct: there are 4 incorrect dates.
My opinion as to their egregious nature is, I think, wholly justifiable.
My hypothesis about their cause also seems at least fairly believable: the middle two dates WOULD have resulted from misreading European dates (10/7/42, and 4/9/42, as American dates, with months and days reversed). Given this, I guessed that MAYBE the two "1/7"s were misread (say, in bad xeroxes) as "1/1"s. Who knows? And, ultimately, who cares?
I could have gone into all this detail originally, but why bother? You've made a good size molehill out of nothing at all, and--I daresay--missed the point of my original commentary. The bottom line is: read the book for yourself.
Last edited by kuha on Wed May 05, 2004 5:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
I have a hunch that the confusion over January 1 and July 1 may have something to do with the fact that many Europeans write the digit 1 in a way that might cause an American who is unaccustomed to reading that kind of script to mistake a 1 for a 7. What I can't quite figure out is why that mistake wouldn't have lead to a rendering of the date as July 7, rather than January 1.
On the great tempest in a teapot that seems to have erupted here over this silly sidebar, I think I side with Kuha.
For all its faults, I enjoyed "The Perfect Mile". I've read a lot about the event surrounding the race of the first 4-minutes mile, but I still gained some interesting insight into the subject - for example, Landy's relationship with Cerutty, and - as a Brit - Wes Santee had always been a shadowy figure until Neal brought him to life. Thanks Neal.
I rented a car a few years ago in France, and the rental guy wrote the liscense plate #'s on a piece of paper for me so I could go find the car on the lot. When I came back to him, exasperated because I could not find the right car, he advised me that his 1's, I had mistaken for 7's !
So if we're to believe this latest theory, rather than using any printed reference material, Mr. Bascomb travelled to Sweden and had a couple of aging Swedish milers who weren't a real part of the dialogue hand-write the dates of their world record races?
>my copy came in the mail yesterday... saving it for a rainy day.
"The item(s) listed below has shipped from your chapters.indigo.ca order, OR10548946 and we are
now processing a charge to your credit card or online account (depending on your method of
payment). Please refer to your unique order number when checking your order's status either
online or with a customer service agent."
"...is, in fact, full of action and insight into a surprisingly large community of quirky people who were watching the
three competitors with as much suspense, interest and enthusiasm as the rest of us felt watching Mark McGwire
and Sammy Sosa run up record home run totals that very same year."
Neal Bascomb has achieved the Holy Grail of writers: a GLOWING, full page review in Sunday's New York Times Book Review (5/2/04, p. 21). Has ANY comparable track book in the last 50 years been accorded such treatment? I sure can't think of any...
Paul Christman(editor of Running Stats) writes a long very favourable review in the link below. He also reviews Joe Vitucci’s A Run By the River. If Paul noticed the errors, he didn't mention them. He was more focussed on the telling of the tale.
"Many may find themselves coursing steadily through it, yet not wanting it to end, while carried to those conclusions already known but again recreated through the magic electricity of superb writing."
I wasn't going to bring this thread back, but since it's here, I'll note two more reviews or mentions of the book:
-the TLS (Times Literary Supplement), May 14, 2004, p. 28
-New Yorker, May 10, 2004, p. 103 (small mention, but notable nonetheless)
Some may grouse that Bannister's run isn't really all that important, etc., etc.--but it's clear that this is the ONLY event from track history that is known (in any way) to a goodly percentage of the public.